Courtesy of Independent Health’s Corporate Wellness Team

At the beginning of each school year, many parents struggle with deciding whether to have their child bring a bagged lunch from home or buy lunch from the school cafeteria. Whenever possible, we encourage parents to pack their kids’ lunches so they know what their children are eating.

Allowing children to choose and prepare their own lunch piques interest in the meal and makes it more likely kids will eat their own creations. Let your child help make lunch the night before school and you can guide your children to the proper portions and healthy choices. Picking out their own lunch box is also a great way to include them. Look for insulated bags with room for a small freezer pack to keep items cold.

The most nutritious lunches include foods from at least three food groups (e.g., protein, fruit, dairy). Here are some ideas to keep your child happy and healthy at lunchtime:

  • Make a smarter sandwich. Use lean meats, grilled chicken, light tuna, peanut butter and jelly. Put them on different breads like 100% whole-wheat tortilla wraps (choose wraps low in saturated fat and made with no hydrogenated oils) or 100% whole-wheat pita pockets. In addition, try nutritious toppings such as shredded carrot or zucchini and sliced apple or pear with a turkey sandwich, or banana on peanut butter sandwich. Replace cheese and mayo with avocado and hummus.
  • Love those leftovers. Think about using the leftovers from a family-favorite dinner for a next day lunch. Making homemade meals can be healthy by cooking lighter with oils and using less salt. Keep foods hot or cold until the lunch bell rings by putting them in a thermos. Some leftover ideas include soup (tomato, vegetable or bean), chili (vegetarian or made with lean or extra lean ground chicken) or spaghetti (whole wheat with tomato, pesto or marinara sauce).
  • Healthy options for snack time. Most of the snacks served to children should be fruits and vegetables, since most kids do not eat the recommended number of servings fruits and vegetables each day. Pack an apple, banana, celery sticks or baby carrots. Other non-fruit and vegetable snack ideas include:
    • Homemade toasted pita bread chips
    •  Pretzels
    • Trail mix or raisins
    • Whole-grain cereal
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Graham crackers
    • Wheat or whole grain crackers
  • What to drink? Milk (either low-fat white or chocolate) is one of the easiest ways for kids to meet their need for dairy. Another smart choice is 100% fruit juice, which is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Water should be the main drink served to kids at snack times.

A healthy diet can have a profound effect on your child’s health, helping them to maintain a healthy weight, stabilize their moods, sharpen their minds, and avoid a variety of health problems. Therefore, the sooner you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into a child’s diet, the easier they’ll be able to develop a healthy relationship with food that can last them a lifetime.